Nashat Akram and Noor Sabri were recently featured on Abu Dhabi Sport to discuss Iraq’s hopes of hosting the 24th edition of the Gulf Cup. With the president of Iraq’s FA, Abdul Khaliq Masood, also present, the show proved to be a tense affair with some heated dialogue and interesting points raised. Amongst the areas of discussion, questions were asked of the Iraqi FA’s poor management. In particular, there was a sense of complete disbelief at the lack of collaboration between the Iraqi FA and key figures from Iraq’s ‘golden generation’.
Iraq’s 2007 Asian Cup winning side feature some of Iraq’s all-time greats. The likes of Younis Mahmoud, Saleh Sadir and Qusay Munir played pivotal roles in winning Iraq’s only ever Asian Cup victory. The majority of players who featured in that squad are now retired, besides the odd few that are still going strong – notably Karrar Jassim and Noor Sabri, currently plying their trade in Iran and Iraq’s top divisions, respectively. Others have also gone into club management and coaching roles.
Numerous players in that generation experienced spells in Europe, with Hawar becoming the first ever Iraqi to score in the UEFA Champions League with his club, Anorthosis Famagusta FC of Cyprus. Nashat Akram’s spell at FC Twente in Holland, the home of Total Football, would naturally expose him to ideas and philosophies alien to those who only experienced playing in the Gulf. Both players recently returned from trips away to Holland, where they embarked on a career-changing journey to begin their lives as football directors. Clearly, there is a huge impetus from players of that generation to transform football within Iraq. This desire to improve shows dedication and a willingness to learn from others at their own time and cost.
Despite these players developing their roles in the game, whether it’s Hawar as a football director or Jassim Ghulam as a manager, we have yet to see the Iraqi FA work alongside any of these stars to utilise their newly found skills and experiences. This could be in the form of permanent and temporary roles in the FA, where the players can slowly be bled into the organisation to instil a different outlook into the progression of football in Iraq. Having a younger generation of former footballers in the FA may help modernise ideas in the organisation and help correct the many flaws currently plaguing Iraqi football.
These players have only recently hung up their boots and their experiences as footballers in Iraq are fresh in their minds. This means that they remember exactly what difficulties they experienced growing up in Iraq, and what they would have liked during their careers to aid their progression as footballers.
Playing in a different era to those currently in the Iraqi FA would naturally bring a difference of opinion on how the organisation should operate. The suggested ideas may not always be positive, but creating dialogue and sharing opinions can only lead to improvement.
Any other country in Asia who would have such a star-studded generation of footballers developed in their ranks would undoubtedly place these individuals on a pedestal and utilise their experiences until they’ve bled dry every idea from them. Yet in Iraq, these players are overlooked and ignored. Imagine if the UAE had won the Asian Cup over the course of the last 10 years – would they have ignored the players from the title winning squad, or would they have slowly introduced those players into their FA once they retired? At the very least, these players would have been given ambassadorial positions to improve the reputation of their league, FA and national team.
Unfortunately, this can never happen in Iraq due to the lack of long-term strategic planning in the country. Current Iraqi FA seniors are able to fill their pockets whilst doing the bare minimum for football in their country. Could it be that introducing the likes of Nashat and Younis would slowly see the likes of Abdul Khaliq Masood pushed into obscurity? Would such a strategy result in seniors at the FA to be forced to give up their lucrative positions? Undoubtedly.
Knowing this, the golden generation of footballers have been pushed aside and are unable to create any serious change in their home country. This is perfect for Abdul Khaliq Masood and his friends, who can continue collecting their monthly pay cheques whilst having their positions unchallenged. This level of stupidity and corruption cannot go unchallenged any longer. Fans, the media and players need to continue putting pressure on the Iraqi FA until reforms are inevitable. It’s time to fight back.